Week Adjourned: 1.21.12

A weekly wrap up of top class action lawsuits and settlements for the week ending January 21, 2012

Top Class Actions

Holy HELOC Batman—It’s been certified! A class action lawsuit brought by a couple in Cupertino in 2009—and which has been through 4 attempts to get certified—finally got the nod from a federal court judge this past week. And this one could affect many people.

The back story—Washington Mutual and JPMorgan Chase (Chase has since acquired WaMu) allegedly reduced credit limits on Jeffrey and Jenifer Schulken’s home equity line of credit (HELOC) without valid reasons.

Specifically, the HELOC class action lawsuit alleges violations of the Truth in Lending Act violations and unfair competition among other claims. The Cupertino couple allege they were informed by Chase, by letter, that their home equity credit lines would be suspended because they did not have enough monthly income to satisfy their debts. The Schulken’s allege that the monthly income of $11,200 that Chase claimed the couple stated on their applications, was inaccurate, that they had never “provided such an inflated income figure to WaMu, and that if the Schulkens’ file indicated such an income, then WaMu had intentionally misrepresented their income.”

After four attempts by Chase to have the complaint dismissed, two classes have now been certified: the “inability to verify” class, and a subclass of borrowers whose credit lines were suspended because Chase could not verify their financial circumstances.

The plaintiffs’ class definition to include “only those members who signed contracts that (1) arise from heritage WaMu customers, and (2) state that the borrower must provide, upon the lender’s request, ‘a current financial statement, new credit application, or both.'”

Top Settlements

Couple of big pharma settlements announced this week…

At the top of the hit parade we have Johnson & Johnson (J&J). They have reportedly agreed to pay $158 million to settle a lawsuit in Texas that alleges the company defrauded the state by misleading doctors about its antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

The deal will put an end to claims that J&J marketed Risperdal off label—for unapproved uses—and downplayed health risks associated with the drug. Texas had originally sought at least $579 million in damages. Well, shoot for the stars—isn’t that how the saying goes?

Bloomberg reported that the settlement follows some rather incriminating testimony given in court last week. Testimony that included an expert eye witness stating that J&J hid data showing Risperdal could cause weight gain that could lead to diabetes. According to Bloomberg “the witness also alleged that J&J had key study [ Study 113] results several years before it added warnings about weight gain to the drug’s label.”

Bloomberg notes in its report that J&J’s unpublished studies—ah—yes—more than one—were cited in a South Carolina case that brought a $327 million judgment against the pharmaceutical manufacturer. “It is apparent to this court that this information was not disclosed because if did not fit the marketing department’s vision for the promotion and marketing of this drug,” Judge Roger Couch wrote in a ruling (as quoted by Bloomberg). Amen to that.

And singing from a similar song sheet—we have Merck. It was announced this week that they have agreed to pay up to $37 million to settle a Canadian Vioxx class action lawsuit. Included in the settlement is $10 million for costs and fees. Plaintiffs’ lawyer said up to 2,000 Canadians may be eligible for compensation.

FYI—Vioxx (Rofecoxib) was on the market from 1999 to 2004, prescribed to patients as a pain-reliever for arthritis, osteoarthritis, menstrual pain, and other acute pain. Vioxx was recalled and pulled off the market when it was linked to deadly side effects heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and arrythmia. This led to billions of dollars’ worth of litigation, including a $4.85 billion settlement that covers most of the U.S. plaintiffs.

Ok—That’s a wrap for this week. See you at the bar!

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